In the face of the rising need for more environmentally friendly practices on Koh Tao, Thailand,Ban’s Diving Resort, the largest certifying PADI Career Development Centre and Project AWARE Supporter on the island, formed ‘Ban’s Eco'.This non-profit outfit runs restorative projects to keep both the island and its’ surrounding marine habit both beautiful and healthy for the future. The following outlines some of our initiatives, with an emphasis on the Coral Nursery Project in hopes that it might inspire you or your dive centre to contribute to the efforts in maintaining our reefs.
The island of Koh Tao, located in the Gulf of Thailand, is a small island of only 21 square kilometers and receives 300,000-400,000 tourists annually (predominantly visiting for a scuba diving holiday). Due to Koh Tao’s rising popularity not only as a tourist destination but as a location for travelers seeking to obtain their dive certification, there continues to be a great strain put on the islands’ land and marine-based natural resources.
Among Ban’s Eco’s ongoing activities and projects, we run weekly Project AWARE Beach Cleanups of Sairee Beach (which is home to Ban’s Diving and is under heavy stress due to tourism and over-development), monthly Underwater Clean-Ups of the Sairees’ Coral Reef, installation of mooring buoys (to prevent boats from dropping anchor on corals) and educate and spread awareness of eco-friendly diving practices amongst our divers.
Our newest endeavor towards lessening the environmental strain put on our island was to construct a Coral Nursery. This project was undertaken with the help of Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai and Save Koh Tao, our islands Environmental Conservation Group. This method of reef restoration has and continues to show success in projects in Egypt, the Philippines and other regions of Thailand (J.C. Delbeek 2001, Yeemin et al 2006).
Coral Reefs are complex and diverse eco-systems which provide food for marine life, storm and flood protection and livelihoods for coastal communities, such as ours, which relies almost solely on the diving industry. They play a necessary role in maintaining the health of our worlds’ oceans which in turn maintains our health and longevity.
Our Coral Nursery was born through Ban’s Eco’s involvement in the ‘Adopt-a-Reef’ Program, run by Save Koh Tao. This program enlists its’ members to maintain and be responsible for a specific Koh Tao reef which they themselves choose. There are a total of seven coral nurseries surrounding the island as a result of this program, which are managed by six of Koh Tao’s 42 Dive Schools. For more information on the ‘Adopt-a-Reef’ Program please see www.marineconservationkohtao.com.
Mid-water Coral Nurseries, like the one we have built, are designed to remove stresses, like moving sediment and predators, from the surrounding environment. The end goal of these structures is to allow damaged corals the opportunity to flourish, having been relieved from these stresses, so they may be transplanted to a natural reef/permanent artificial reef in the future. Furthermore, Coral Nurseries create a new habitat for other marine life to flourish and find a home.
In order to construct a functional Coral Nursery, we collected more than a hundred coral fragments (living pieces of coral, between 3-15 cms, which have broken off of their original larger coral colony) from the sandy areas of our natural reef just off Sairee Beach. Once we had collected our fragments we brought them back to shore and stored them in a bucket of fresh sea water, which was kept in the shade, we prepared to attach them to the tables. After trimming the dead portions of our fragments away, we attached them to our nursery tables (which we had built prior to fragment collection), using small PVC tubing and natural fiber ropes.
There are three Coral Nursery types (all of which have been incorporated into Ban’s Eco Nursery); these are Rope Tables, Flat Tables, and Sloped Tables. These different table designs provide varying environments for an array of coral species to grow. We used poured cement weights to anchor our initial metal structure, which was bolted together, and then constructed trays for our Flat and Sloped Tables out of PVC piping and thick plastic mesh, which the fragments in their tubes were later attached to. The trays, once the fragments had been secured, were carefully transported down to the steel structure and affixed with plastic ties. Ideally the fragments would be secured to the tray underwater, but it can be done from a boat if necessary. Our Nursery lies between 10-11 meters depth in a sandy patch away from mooring boats and snorkeler/diver traffic.
Given time, the fragments have already started to grow around the tubing and rope and most species which we collected have flourished and maintained a healthy color and growth rate. We collected three different types of coral, Branching, Foliose(or leafy plate) and Massive, and so far our branching fragments are responding best to the new environment, with healthy white tips, indicating growth and a deep orange color. We look forward to having the opportunity to transplant some of them out into the natural Sairee reef and collect new fragments to fill their places in the nursery, thus creating a never-ending cycle of marine conservation and restoration.
Our hope is that the Coral Nurseries of Koh Tao play a major role in keeping the islands’ waters beautiful and healthy, and will help us spread awareness amongst the islands’ inhabitants and visitors on the need for such projects. We wish you this best of success at your dive centre in creating AWARE projects!
If you would like more information on the Restoration Projects underway on Koh Tao, Thailand please see www.marineconservationkohtao.com or www.landconservationkohtao.com. If you would like to find out more about how the Coral Nursery is doing at Ban’s please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jessica Dinan